I’m picking up steam, which is good. I will, almost certainly, finish more than six books this summer. But I haz a sad because my tiny user stats have fallen off a cliff. I didn’t think there were enough of you out there reading me to do that, but apparently almost all stopped at the beginning of June. And I know it wasn’t just me clicking on things because they looked at things I hadn’t seen in months sometimes. Where did you go, my lovelies? Come back! It’s just a bit weird.
Anyhoo, enough of my problems. Less! What is it you say? It’s a humorous novel that won the Pulitzer (which mentally I cannot stop saying Pewlitzer. What is wrong with me?) Humorous books seem to rarely win prizes and it sounded entertaining. Arthur Less is a middle-aged, gay novelist whose ex is marrying someone else at almost the same time he turns 50. Arthur can’t face the wedding, so he accepts a batch of invitations to various events around the world from a conference in Mexico, to a (someone else’s) birthday tour of Morocco, to writing an article on Kaiseki dining in Japan. Arthur’s an extremely odd mix of sad-sack and lucky bastard without really realizing it. He’s goofy, clumsy, sweet, hapless, innocent, and apparently oblivious to his own charms even though he has no problems getting involved with men at the drop of a hat. He’s brooding, of course, because his two major relationships have both ended and he’s alone and rapidly colliding with 50. He’s a published novelist and people tell him how much they loved his first book, Kalipso, over and over. But his subsequent books have not sold as well, though he’s been translated into other languages, which I would view as a success. Perhaps it’s because his first love was a Pulitzer winning poet-genius that he feels inadequate. Or it’s just part and parcel of his character and the other side of the coin of his charm which seems to be this naive/innocent obliviousness.
I decided this would be next when the woman on the plane next to me was reading it and I asked her how she liked it. She didn’t. She was halfway through and forcing herself to carry on because it was for her book club. Uh-oh, thinks I. But then, I am not she, so I went for it next and you know what. I really enjoyed it. It was no effort at all to follow Less on his round the world escape from Mexico through Europe to India and Japan. I was highly entertained. It’s a funny, charming, story about love and aging and success with a bit of screwball comedy along the way. Did I mention Arthur was hapless? This leads to all sorts of humorous situations both physical and emotional. I puzzle over why this total stranger was not enjoying this. It’s true, there are almost no women in it. Perhaps that was the problem. She doesn’t enjoy comedy? I have no idea. I am nearly the same age as Arthur, have written on occasion, perhaps that’s enough to make him relatable for me. Or it just fits my sense of humor better.
Both this book and Isaac Severy go into the concept of genius and what its like for people who aren’t geniuses to live with genius and the fact that they aren’t geniuses themselves. There’s a character in Less that views everyone as either a genius or a mediocrity. To his credit, Arthur doesn’t believe that. There’s unquestionably a spectrum and in the arts particularly, a matter of opinion. The test of time is a factor. Arthur seems fairly incapable of rating his own work and one of the things touched on is fashions in art. Arthur is accused at one point of being a ‘bad gay’ because of how he treats his characters. But that seems to be a matter of how people when the book is published want characters to be treated which ten or fifty years from now may be quite different. Whereas in Severy, it’s math and physics. You solve an equation no one has in 50 years and you’re a genius. There’s no question about it. Just be the first to realize that e=mc squared and you’ve got your genius card. But what about people like Philip Severy whose very good at math, good enough to work at Caltech, but not as good as his father. Probably it’s wrong to try to label people genius and less than genius (see what I did there?) It’s not an issue for most people, but I really felt for Philip, his work ground to a halt, (math being the territory of the young, for the most part) not knowing if he’s not trying hard enough, he’s barking up the wrong tree, he’s on the right path and will get there in the end, he has no way of knowing. To be tremendously smart, presumably capable of great things, and not achieve them, that’s a terrible feeling and not solely the province of near-geniuses. Have I lived up to my potential? What should I be doing? Is there something I can do to get on the right track if I’m not there now? Probably why they publish 98 million self-help books every year. Most of us don’t know. We took the road less traveled and got lost. Or we took the road everyone else seemed to be on and still got lost. Never mind what color it is, I don’t even seem to have a parachute. So, I think I’ve answered my own question, it’s not a frivolous categorization issue, it’s the age-old question, how should I live and one that everyone should deal with, unless somehow their path is blindingly obvious. More power to ’em. But that’s certainly not me. I’m much more Arthur Less.